I’m a big fan of Buffy’s sixth season but, having now finished reviewing it, I can understand why many people don’t like it. This isn’t the series it once was. That’s not a bad thing, as shows need to evolve in order to keep from becoming redundant, but the series did (for the most part) lose that “comfort food” appeal of long running television. In exchange, we got a darker, more introspective version of Buffy. Whether or not you think that the trade was worth it is really a matter of personal preference.
“Bargaining” was the best premiere the series has ever done. Every Buffy premiere poses the question “Is Buffy Still Buffy?” but this is the first one since season one to make that a question worth asking, primarily because it doesn’t get answered. This made “Bargaining” not just a captivating episode of television in its own right, but an effective gateway into one of the majour themes of the season.
Speaking of “Is Buffy still Buffy?” our heroine’s arc worked wonderfully throughout the season. Virtually every superhero turns away from their destiny at some point or another (Buffy’s done it herself a few times), but that’s not what happened here. Buffy continues to perform her duties as a Slayer, but she’s no longer getting any satisfaction from it or much else in her life. It’s a refreshing turn for the character as she struggles to get back herself without really believing there’s value in doing so.
I also really enjoyed the meta nature of Buffy’s arc as the series underwent a quest for renewal.
Buffy and Spike finally get together and it’s wonderfully far removed from Buffy/Angel. With so many fans pulling for this relationship, having it manifest in such an unhealthy way was a great way to subvert expectations.
Spike’s own arc was also pretty great this season as he, like the audience, got what he wanted but not the way he wanted it. Season five saw him trying to become better for Buffy, while this year saw him trying to make her worse for him. It’s a rather insidious role for such a fun character, but it worked well and culminated in him seemingly cementing his damnation before doing the one thing that may actually redeem him.
This was certainly the standout year for Willow as the character was given far more meat to chew. Hannigan was up to the challenge and, a few bumps here and there aside, her story played out well all season, ending with one of the series’ greatest mini-arcs.
The final piece of the season-arc’s puzzle: The Trio! Consistently hilarious, these three made for a refreshing departure for the continually escalating Big Bads. They also managed bring some moral weight to the story as Warren emerged as genuinely evil and the other boys’ delusions began to have consequences.
In addition to the consistently strong story-arcs, this season also delivered its share of standout episodes, including: “Bargaining”, “Once More with Feeling,” “Tabula Rasa,” “Dead Things,” “Normal Again,” and “Grave.”
Xander & Anya were a weak link this year, which is truly unfortunate since the characters, both individually and as a couple, are capable of so much more. Their story this year could’ve worked, it just need a lot more attention than it received. That’s doubly true for Xander as his status as a core-Scooby was rather dubious this season.
Anthony Stewart Head’s absence was sorely felt this year. Giles’ steadying influence would’ve undermined the story they wanted to tell, but the series was still weaker without him.
Double Meat Palace.
Unfortunately, I also need to lump Dawn into this category. Her klepto arc never really went anywhere and, beyond that, she did little more than whine and not support Buffy the way she should’ve.
“Life is the Big Bad” was certainly a solid premise, but many of the challenges thrown at Buffy just ended up looking A) trivial and B) irresponsible on the part of her friends. What exactly was the plan for the Summers’ finances? Were Willow and Tara living rent free? Wouldn’t Giles have provided for Dawn’s future? This may seem like nitpicking, but Buffy’s not known for leaving such obvious plot holes.